Atlanta, Georgia, Sunday morning. Business-suited church members gather at First Baptist Church. Across town, young adults, dressed in casual clothes as though they may be going to the beach, meet in a gym to the music of guitars, keyboards and drums. It is loud and the worshipers lift their hands and sway to the music. The pastor preaches in a conversational tone. Up the street, another group begins gathering, dressed in clothes of another country. They speak a language other than English. They meet in a small storefront building. Time is not important to them. Even though the service is scheduled to begin at 11 am, it really does not get started until 11:40. They worship until 1:30 pm and no one leaves before the service is over.
Churches everywhere struggle with the age-old question: How does the gospel of Jesus Christ relate to cultures and traditions? The starting point is Jesus Christ.
Jesus laid out this problem. He recognized that Satan rules all societies and the willful disobedience of all races. It was into this kind of world that Jesus came, God in human flesh. Rejected, he confided to his disciples, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (John 15:18-19, NIV). Every believing community lives its life of faith in an essentially unfriendly environment because Christians are players in the spiritual battle in which the forces of evil are intent on drawing people away from God. This spiritual conflict undergirds every act, thought, and teaching of Jesus and the apostles.
But the gospel enters every culture dynamically. Regardless of culture, the gospel is always an intrusion. It is always an innovation. It is always a challenge to the culture.
Even though cultures are imperfect and often hostile, they are the contexts in which Jesus Christ meets people by grace. Lamin Sanneh, the missiologist, reminds us that the gospel moved out of the language spoken by Jesus into the Greek arena. And everywhere the gospel has been taken since then, enthusiastic evangelists and pastors have assumed that any culture can be host to Jesus Christ. Just as Jesus lived his life within the confines of a cultural context, so can the gospel find a home in any human culture. This is called incarnation.
So in growing healthy churches, every leader must understand the context of the culture and then develop communication skills, structure, programs of ministry, and worship styles that fit into that culture.
- A Leader Must Have a Profound Sense of God’s Call
- A Leader Must Grow in Their Relationship with God
- A Leader Must Be Compassionate
- A Leader Must Be Passionate
- A Leader Must Be Visionary
- A Leader Must Become Entrepreneurial
- A Leader Must Be Contextual
- A Leader Must Be a Planner
- A Leader Must Be a Lifelong Learner
- A Leader Must Be a Delegator and Empowerer of Others